A friend of mine recently asked my opinion of m/m fiction in general. I tried to answer then and there but found myself rambling around because it is complicated muchly - and within it are many ifs maybes and buts. So, time to make an LJ post to see if I can sort out my own thoughts and see if the wonderful people who read this can help find order in the ramble.
First of all - the definition. M/m fiction as I see it, is literature centring around a male/male relationship. It is also primarily written by straight women.
And I know some gay men loathe it with a fiery passion. And I don’t blame them - because most of it is bloody awful.
No, really. It’s full of gross (and often insulting) stereotypes, focused entirely on the sexing, full of tired and unrealistic tropes.
Now the reason I haven’t had the same averse reaction to the genre is the FIRST m/m I read was actually very good. I have read good m/m fiction since then - but the very first m/m fiction I came across in the net was written by 2 women whose stories I still follow and enjoy immensely (I had thought to name them here but have decided against doing so. If I invite controversy with my musings I‘d rather not spill it into their spaces). These were good stories with actual developed characters, great plot lines and in general were good reads.
Since then I have read good m/m. But the majority I’ve read doesn’t come close - in fact it goes a long damn way from coming close. In fact, let’s be frank, most of it is porn. The m/m characters have as much relation with actual gay men as the nigh obligatory “lesbian” sex scene in porn aimed at heterosexual men. And, naturally, that has strong implications of appropriation, exploitation and voyeurism to say the least and potential consequences for young gays looking for something about them come across a stereotypical, angst filled, sex obsessed one-hand-reading piece of m/m fiction.
In short, I do not like the majority of m/m fiction because it doesn’t have gay men in it - it has blow up dolls painted with rainbows.
This is further exacerbated by what I’ve seen of the m/m community - though I admit my perceptions are heavily coloured from the Lambda fail (Details: here, here, here, here
) I have found it to be extremely straight-centric, straight privileged, very cavalier with gay people, characters and issues and with a very strong sense of entitlement (displayed grossly by the Lambda award brouhaha). We have some straight authors pretending to be gay to sell books - and arguing that that is ok and even straight authors assuming they are allied to (you don’t get to claim ally status) LGBT people just because they write about gay sex. I have seen them show up in gay spaces, gay forums, pride parades, gay events and actually acting like authorities or members because of what they write.
In short, I have been neither impressed nor amused. In fact, I don’t consider the m/m genre to be a safe space for gay men.
BUT, I am unwilling to throw away the whole category of m/m altogether. I as I said some authors of m/m write extremely good stories with gay characters. Some of them read this journal and they know they’re good (or should do :P). I also do not buy into the idea that straight writers can’t write gay characters. I think it takes time and effort and research to write gay characters in a sympathetic, realistic, non-stereotypical and non-offensive way - but I have no problem with straight people writing gay characters. I think the idea that they shouldn’t is both silly and self-defeating.
So what, I ask myself, to do? What is the way out here?
IDEALLY I would like to see a split of genres. With m/m fiction being classed as primarily books aimed at straight women that largely orientate around the *ahem* “relationship” (term used loosely). With another coined genre based on gay characters in a more full, less fetishised/voyeuristic fashion. In truth I think the latter would often fit nicely into CURRENT genres. Is there a reason why a quality Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Romance novel is suddenly labelled m/m just because it has gay characters in centre stage? Why does the fact the main characters are gay utterly change the genre? Are gay characters unfit or unqualified, somehow?
(I have to say at this point that I wouldn’t support the idea of straight authors writing books that were labelled as ‘gay fiction’. For obvious reasons).
Of course, the ‘ideal’ doesn’t happen. Mainstream publishers are not exactly falling over themselves for books with gay main characters. And publishers that do publish m/m primarily are very much a part of the genre and I doubt very much will draw any distinction at all between a book written with realistic, fully fleshed out, non-stereotypical gay characters in an absorbing and detailed plotline who do more than hump and angst and books which are intended to read one handed, written by Julian McHomo (honest), have more words spent describing the throbbing of penis than actual plot and have characters that make yaoi ‘uke’ and ‘seme’ characterisations seem a positively glowing example of homosexual relationships.
Despite the ideal being likely unattainable, I have to say I am unequivocally against the good authors who are as not impressed as I am from just putting down their pens and packing up their keyboards. And, sadly, I have seen 2 authors consider doing just that. Removing the well characterised plots from the voyeuristic, appropriation almost-porn will not make the headache-inducing stories less common, less prevalent or slow down its production nor will it balance the genre or the community. While I can understand an element of not wanting to be part of or being seen to be supporting a community whose practices you find objectionable, there also has to be a measure of practicality.
So I would say that, even if you don’t like all that happens in the genre, write. Promote where you can in the community - preferably choosing the least objectionable spaces (and they most certainly exist) - but don’t be afraid to hold your nose now and then. Choose the publisher most sensitive to your concerns - but in the end, any port in a storm. Don’t think that being a part of the genre means you can’t criticise it.
Mercenary? Maybe. But I’d rather see more good stories with gay characters out there, than the authors deciding they don’t want any part of the various problematic issues in the genre. I don’t think either their disapproving stance is damage nor the genre’s negative elements encouraged by their participation. And if they were, I think these concerns are outweighed by the benefit of having allies increasing the amount of realistic portrayals of gay men in literature.
So... I’ve rambled a whole hell of a lot here and not said an awful lot, largely because of my own ambivalence. I have to say again that I don’t think in any way that my characterisation of the m/m genre to all m/m authors. It may not even apply to most (but, if it doesn’t, then ‘most’ are very very quiet). And, again, I say that my perceptions have been coloured by the Lambda debate and similar which did not show the genre in the best possible light. I do feel though. there’s more than a little... unpleasantness there and some very strong problematic elements. I don’t know exactly where to go here (or how to end this piece) but it’s probably something I’m going to be musing about for a while.